John Coltrane and Mal Waldron ‘The Dealers Complete Sessions’ 2 CD (Essential Jazz Classics) 4/5

coltrane-waldronPianist Mal Waldron is one of the unsung heroes of the jazz world and yet he has recorded on some of the very greatest all-time albums in the company of singers Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln, and with instrumentalists of the calibre of Eric Dolphy, Steve Lacy, Booker Little and Max Roach, to name but a few. Essential Jazz Classics have wisely sought to package together the complete recordings that Waldron laid down at Prestige with titan tenorist John Coltrane, and while these are available elsewhere on the complete John Coltrane Prestige box set, that would be too much for the more casual jazz listener to take all at once and therefore a double CD containing some of the classic late 1950s albums and bonus cuts is a delight for fans of hard, progressive swinging bop with a healthy dose of the blues and just the merest hint of more avant-garde avenues to explore in the future. The first CD is the more conventional in terms of line-up and approach and features two members of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in trumpeter Bill Hardman and altoist Jackie McLean. While the latter would delve into the new thing from the mid-1960s onwards, Hardman would remain in the bop tradition and the contrast between these musicians and the sheets of sound created by Coltrane makes for an enthralling listening experience. Firmly in the Prestige tradition, and in direct contrast to the more polished Blue Note recordings of the same era, musicians were not paid to rehearse at Prestige and therefore the overall feel of the final recordings is much looser and generally longer in length. Art Taylor supplies excellent support on drums. The second CD features a more expanded ensemble sound that comprises tenorist and flutist Frank Wess, fellow tenorist Paul Quinchette with Art Taylor once again on drums. The lengthy title track of ‘Wheelin’ is an impressive Waldron composition as is ‘One by One’ and the pianist is clearly coming out of his shell here. Elsewhere there are some useful excursions into songbook territory on ‘The way you look tonight’ and an interesting choice of a Mercer Ellington piece, ‘Things ain’t what they used to be’ and it sometimes overlooked what fine work Duke Ellington’s son was capable of. Alternate takes of ‘Wheelin’ and ‘Dealin’ greet the listener on either side of the end of the first and the beginning of the second CD. With timing of well over seventy minutes, this is a bargain way in which to acquire some of the meatiest Prestige albums of the late 1950s and just before John Coltrane truly came into his own as a leader.

Tim Stenhouse